Mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary organisation that serves the agenda of Russian President Vladimir Putin, are fighting in Libya, United Nations (UN) diplomats said Wednesday (May 6).
It was the first time the UN has confirmed claims that the group is supporting military strongman Khalifa Haftar.
Libya's UN-recognised government last week accused Haftar, emboldened by military support from Moscow, of seeking to stage a new coup after he claimed to have a "popular mandate" to govern the country.
Syrian fighters are supporting Haftar, added a UN Security Council report that the diplomats cited. Analysts submitted the study to the council April 24.
The Wagner Group is a shadowy private security firm, and thousands of its contractors are believed to be in foreign conflicts from Syria and Ukraine to the Central African Republic.
The group is "an instrument of the Kremlin's policy" in Libya, a senior US State Department official told AFP.
Wagner personnel have been operating in Libya since 2018, said the UN report.
"Wagner has been providing technical support for the repair of military vehicles, participating in combat operations and engaging in influence operations," the UN report said.
They are also involved in "more specialised military tasks such as acting as artillery Forward Observation Officers and Forward Air Controllers, providing electronic countermeasures expertise and deploying as sniper teams," it continued.
Mercenaries a 'force multiplier'
"Their deployment has acted as an effective force multiplier" for Haftar, it said.
The analysts said they could not independently verify how many Wagner mercenaries were in Libya but estimated their deployment at between 800 and 1,200.
Tensions exist between Wagner and Haftar's command, said the report.
Haftar is receiving help from Syrian fighters, further complicating the conflict, added the report.
The Wagner Group has been co-ordinating a massive recruitment effort of Syrian youths to fight as mercenaries in Libya with the help of a political party supported by the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Haftar has opened a consulate in Damascus, where the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has Kremlin backing.
Syrian mercenaries are now fighting alongside Haftar, said the UN study.
The fighters reached Libya via at least 33 flights operated by Damascus-based private Syrian company Cham Wings Airlines since the start of this year, according to the report, adding that they numbered fewer than 2,000.